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New study asserts self-driving vehicle takeover by mid-century

Many New Orleans residents have probably heard about the furor to get self-driving cars out on the road. It may sound like a science fiction movie, but these vehicles are more of a reality than many people may know. Autonomous (or self-driving) cars have been tested for a couple of years, and some states are modifying their laws so that they can be tested on their streets. There have been many promising results, and according to a new study, these promising early days will foster a sweeping change in the future.

The study, prepared by IHS Automotive, makes two bold predictions: that by 2035, self-driving cars will account for half of car purchases in the U.S.; and 15 years after that, in 2050, "almost all" vehicles will have some sort of "autonomous mode."

These are some pretty bold proclamations, but it isn't hard to envision a future where convenient self-driving cars are the predominant means of transportation -- the word "convenient" being key in that sentence.

However, what happens when that convenience malfunctions? When a defective self-driving car makes it onto the road (it's not a matter of "if"), how do we deal with the aftermath of what that defective vehicle caused?

This is a complex idea. For example, what if you get pulled over by the cops for a traffic violation while in a self-driving car? How does that work? What about a car accident? Where does liability fall in such a case? What if the self-driving car fails and the driver is placed in an emergency situation where he or she needs to drive -- but he or she is drunk because they expected their self-driving car to work flawlessly?

Source: The Detroit Bureau, "Self-driving cars popular by mid-century: study," Paul A. Eisenstein, Jan. 6, 2014

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